Nostalgia, flaw and fear: Recognizing red flags in a relationship

  • Jenny met Hassan at a party, they clicked instantly, and before they knew it, their friendship blossomed into something else. After much persuasion from Hassan, Jenny finally agreed to move in with him. Everything was all roses and rainbows until it started; Hassan didn’t like the way Jenny dressed, what began as playful comments about her choice of clothes, became serious. Hassan hated it when Jenny talked to other men, and he usually makes jokes about how ‘no one can like her as he does’ or how he is crushing on other women in an attempt to see her reaction, because ‘jealousy is cute‘. Not knowing what to do because ‘love’, Jenny convinced herself that Hassan was being ‘possessive’ because he cared and she was afraid to be alone again. What if she never really finds someone like him ever again?

    Now, we can say Jenny is really in love, and no one can convince a woman in love that she is in a toxic relationship, as the saying goes ‘you can’t advise a woman in love‘. We can say at least she has someone who cares enough about her to be ‘jealous and protective’ or if it was the other way round, and Jenny was the one doing everything Hassan did, we can talk about ‘how cute it is to have a crazy and possessive girlfriend like Jenny‘ because ‘crazy girlfriend ‘ is the new awesome. Or we can choose to call the whole scenario by its name, which is manipulation and abuse.

    On love: A definition

    According to Wikipedia, ‘Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure.’ Sounds a bit too formal and ambiguous , doesn’t it ?

    Love is a hard word to describe or define. We can’t actually say what love is, but we can say what it is not. Love is not possession; you do not own a person in a body or in spirit; loving someone does not give you the right to ‘own ‘them. Anything outside that can count as slavery.

    Sometimes, we are so scared of being alone, that we take anything and give it the name of love; this stems from the belief that anything is better than nothing. We believe that having someone close to us no matter how terrible they are is better than sleeping alone on our cold, safe beds.

    On red flags: Why do we stay, despite everything?

    1. Nostalgia 

    Billy Chapata once said ‘Nostalgia will keep you renting spaces in toxic places and swimming in muddy waters if you allow it to. Your peace of mind is more valuable than old memories and your growth has no room to operate on sympathy.’

    We sometimes focus too much on the good others have done to us and that’s why we find it easy to ignore red flags. We tend to give excuses to people that do not deserve it by convincing ourselves that ‘they are not so bad that ‘they have been good to us so many times’. And we keep piling up excuses after excuses till we bury ourselves beneath it, making it impossible to move.

    I know this is easier said than done, but we need to learn how to sieve the good from the bad, how to weigh them on a scale and see which is heavier. If the bad outweighs the good, then we should know when to walk away, because at this stage they are hurting us more than they are helping us and staying is not worth it.

    Related article: The 7 most important lessons to learn while you are still young

    2. We are all flawed 

    Yes, we are humans, and that means we are a kaleidoscope of flaws. But one thing we all have to understand is that red flags are a lot deeper than ‘just flaws‘. Someone easily getting irritated could be a flaw, but someone getting irritated to the extent of raising their hands on you is not a flaw, it is a red flag. Someone always making jokes especially in serious situations may be considered to be a flaw, but someone making jokes highlighting your insecurities or making cruel jokes about you in public in order to make others laugh is a red flag. Someone cheating on you in a relationship is not a flaw. Someone consistently lying to you and gaslighting you is also not a flaw. Someone verbally and emotionally abusing you is not just a flaw. Someone blackmailing you into loving them or staying in a toxic relationship is not just a flaw.

    This belief (and rightly so) in relation to our flaws and how we see ourselves and in our desire to be accepted despite our flaws should not mean we should accept everything that comes our way, even if it is hurting us, especially when the person we keep holding on to, makes no attempt to change.

    Most times we are not even aware of the fact we are being gaslighted in a relationship. But when we do realize that something is wrong, we shouldn’t take it as ‘just a flaw’. Other things that can be considered red flags are lack of trust. Significant family and friends don’t like your partner (with good reasons), feeling insecure in a relationship (yes, we all have our insecurities, but…), the relationship is built on the need to feel needed (in this case, the person is likely to misuse your energy and leave when they don’t need to anymore) or when someone is being too selfish and don’t even care how it affects us in the long run (putting yourself first does not mean at the detriment of your own partner ) etc. When you see any of these, run. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it.

    Check out this article to read about the emotional consequences of brutal honesty.

    3. Fear 

    Fear is a paralyzing emotion. Fear will keep you standing in front of a moving truck, unable to move. The popular scene we see in movies is not an exaggeration (well, mostly). And one of the most crippling irrational fears is the fear of being alone. Sometimes, we fear to be alone so badly that we willingly ignore red flags.

    The fear of being alone could have come from the stigma attached to being single we see in our society. How many times have we called others single in a manner that is supposed to be insulting or threaten others with being single if they don’t act in a certain way or do a certain thing? Society brandishes being alone like a knife in our faces and yet we wonder why people stay in toxic relationships. People tend to believe that being alone naturally makes someone unhappy, and no amount of evidence proving otherwise can change their minds.

    We fail to realize that single does not equal lonely even if it does get lonely sometimes, and sometimes being around people who are wrong for us make us feel more isolated than we do when we are alone.
    We are so obsessed with not being single that we fail to realize that many of us are in relationships because we can’t stand being alone and we fear what we can become without someone wanting us.

    You may want to check out this article on why you should not let society make you settle for less than you deserve simply for fear of being alone.

    4. What if?

    What if I don’t find someone else? What if they eventually change? What if all they need is a little push to become better? What if the Earth is flat? What if dragons exist? What if can be your greatest enemy in a relationship if you don’t strike a balance and draw a line between when to hold on and when to let go.

    Most times, we see motivational quotes telling us to never give up on what we like, not giving up is a beautiful thing but not in all circumstances and you have to learn when to let things go for your own safety. Sometimes when you let go of things that are not good for you, you give space for something better.

    I know hearing things like these may sound ridiculous to you and you may think these people do not understand or they don’t know how much it means to you. And you may think you don’t care about what happens eventually, but I assure you that even though what-ifs may seem safe, holding on to it might be the worst thing you can do to yourself.

    On healing

    The mistake most of us make when it comes to issues of love and healing is that we think we will never be okay and we never give ourselves time. Yes, time doesn’t heal all wounds as the famous saying goes, but you still need time to come to terms with what has happened. This is why rushing into a new relationship, especially after a bad break up is never a good idea. It is neither fair on us or on the people we choose to date.

    It is okay to miss people, even people who have hurt you badly. Allow yourself feel the ‘feels’. It’s okay to cry about it, or write songs or poems, or give our stories to a character in our books, anything to make us feel better; it’s human to feel. This feeling is where the secret lies, but like everything else, balance is needed, so we don’t get overwhelmed and drown ourselves in them.

    Accept your flaws and try to change but don’t always completely blame yourself. Your partner didn’t cheat because you are not good enough. They probably didn’t leave because you were not worth staying for. You did not attract an abuser because you deserved to be abused. Relationships, like life itself, is very complicated and sometimes we wish people into staying so bad that we forget that staying with people who don’t want us will never be a good thing, that we will live our entire lives craving for things in front of us yet very far from our reach.

    On healing, there is no single path to follow and there is definitely no deadline. Take as much time as you need just try not to drown in it. We all hurt differently; some hurt deeper than others. Your feelings are valid and important, but so is someone else’s.

    Try to figure out what the problem was. It could be you and it could be someone else. Are you the red flag or are you a victim and you are just being gaslighted. Gaslighting will leave you picking on old wounds, believing it was your fault, and altering reality of what happened will make you think that everything is in your head, and your feelings are not valid because you are overreacting.

    When healing, you might keep going back to pick on old wounds and you might keep going back to the same person who is hurting you. But eventually, you will learn that just because you are missing something, doesn’t mean it should have stayed.

    Also, check out: You can’t always have it figured out, and that’s fine

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